Rheum Round-up: Are Arthritis Drugs the Holy Grail of COVID-19?, How The Pandemic Affected Rheumatic Patients, and more

Here are the top stories recently covered by DocWire News in the Rheumatology section. In this edition, read about trials of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drugs to treat COVID-19 patients, how rheumatic patients were affected during the early pandemic days, how the coverage gap closure in Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2019 decreased annual out-of-pocket costs for RA biologics, and an interview about the Autoimmune COVID-19 Project.

The results of a French study found favorable outcomes for COVID-19 patients with moderate to severe pneumonia treated with tocilizumab, a drug commonly prescribed to treat arthritis, according to reports. The French CORIMUNO-TOCI trial was conducted by the public assistance-hospitals of Paris (AP-HP). The results have yet to be published, but the outcomes were reported in a press release and by various news outlets. The main outcome measure was the need for ventilation or death at 14 days—for which tocilizumab significantly reduced the risk. CORIMUNO is exploring other medicines in COVID-19 patients, too, including sarilumab. Although both are anti-IL-6 drugs, tocilizumab is administered intravenously, while sarilumab is administered subcutaneously. The results of a phase 2 trial studying sarilumab in COVID-19 patients found the drug was not beneficial for patients hospitalized but not on ventilators, according to results from Regeneron and Sanofi, who manufacture the drug.

A study evaluated how patients with rheumatic diseases were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic during its initial stages in the United States. A total of 7,061 patients were invited to complete the questionnaire, of whom 530 responded. The most common diagnosis among the respondents was rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (61%). Of the 11 patients who met COVID-19 screening criteria, two sought testing unsuccessfully. An additional six patients sought testing, of whom three were successful, and all were negative. About two in five patients (42%) experienced a change to their care during the previous two weeks. Upon qualitative analysis, the researchers unearthed four key themes: emotions in response to the pandemic, perceptions of risks from immunosuppressive medications, protective measures to reduce risk of COVID‐19 infection, and disruptions in accessing rheumatic disease medications including hydroxychloroquine.

A new study assessed whether the coverage gap closure in Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2019 decreased annual out-of-pocket costs for biologic drugs used to treat RA. Each year, list prices increased for every product assessed in the drug and strength combinations. There were six drugs available for the whole study period; the mean increase for these drugs was 160%. Among the six drugs available for the entirety of the study, the projected mean annual out-of-pocket costs were 34% lower in 2011 than 2010 (2010: $6,108 vs. 2011: $4,026); however, they were only 21% lower by 2019 ($4,801) due to yearly list prices increases. There were four products with higher out-of-pocket costs in 2019 than the first year available that entered the market between 2011 and 2015. The percentage of money spent in the catastrophic phase increased each year for all products studied; the mean was 22% higher in 2019 than in 2010 or the first year the drug was available.

CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation collectively launched the Autoimmune COVID-19 Project, a longitudinal study with the goal of assessing the impact of COVID-19 on patients with multiple sclerosis, arthritis, Crohn’s and colitis, and vasculitis. DocWire News recently interviewed study lead Shilpa Venkatachalam, PhD, associate director of Patient-Centered Research at CreakyJoints and co-principal investigator of ArthritisPower, about the study’s inception, its goals, and more.